Overview: Frank and Claire are forced to reevaluate both their partisanship and their partnership as they battle their way through the Democratic primaries and look ahead to the general election to secure their stay in the White House. 2016; Netflix; 13 episodes.
It’s Lonely at the Top: After a divisive season three had many viewers feeling more than a little exhausted and wondering if the series that inspired Netflix binging was running out of steam. But not to worry: the ballsy, relentless, and unforgiving political drama returns with a vengeance in season four. This season the tension is higher, the rivalries are more ruthless, the players are meaner, and the Underwoods are no longer clawing their way to the top. They’re fighting for their lives to stay at the helm and not making any shortage of enemies along the way, trading in old friends for new when the loyal followers become less useful than fresh blood (here’s to hopefully seeing much more of newbie Neve Campbell in future seasons).
FU 2016: With each passing season of House of Cards, this series somehow manages to become more and more politically prophetic. The most important and compelling thing about season four is the uncanny reflection it casts on the current political landscape of our country. A President is tasked with filling a Supreme Court Justice seat during an election year. Gun control is at the forefront of campaigns. The decisions of one political party lead to an open (brokered) convention. A series the utilizes plot devices that are always politically poignant but tend to dance over the line that divides the realistic from the outrageous has suddenly become less of a fantasy and more of a mirror. But which has evolved, the show or the country?
Along with its timely topics, season four also benefits from its decision to slow down the pacing, allowing the time for additional character exploration and the unfolding of these relatable events to carry with them more of an impact. Viewers are able to experience more of both the emotion and the tension due to a focus on a briefer time span as the inner circle crumbles more intricately and each backstab and undercut is exposed and examined more thoroughly. Frank’s coma lasts episodes instead of minutes, and the most intimidating of his threats are made while he furiously makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Claire Underwood for Everything: More than anything, season four of House of Cards belongs to Claire Underwood. Throughout the series, Claire has always been the one who flirted with morality and genuine emotion, which played a part in the actions and decision that led to her departure in the season three finale. But the chilly, stone-faced presence that brings the temperature in any room down about ten degrees commands the screen as soon as the first episode begins, and that stoicism only becomes increasingly more menacing as the season progresses. Frank is out of the picture for a significant number of episodes, and Claire not only grabs the torch, she marches ahead with a fiery determination.
Robin Wright is fantastically terrifying as Claire continues to aim her sights higher and higher, meticulously plotting the fate of those she must take down along the way, delivering effective threat after threat, using little more than her chiseled jawline icy stare to send the message. The clinch of her Vice President nomination is achieved just as Claire appears to lose the last few pieces of her soul to politics, sending the message that power often comes with a very specific price. The climax of Claire’s victory and therefore total absence of conscience is further cemented in the implication that she’s finally reached Frank’s level in every way during the best and last scene of the season when Claire becomes the only character other than her husband to acknowledge the camera.
Wrap-Up: Dear season five, we are so ready for some Claire Underwood monologues. Love, your humble viewers and the voting public.